Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Best Sports Bra for D-Cup Runners

I'm very passionate about the topic of sports bras. As a size 30-32D, it's difficult to find a supportive, comfortable sports bra.

When I was in high school, my dance team coach informed me that my bouncing boobs were a distraction for the entire performance. "Nobody is watching the dance because they are all looking at your chest bouncing around," she said. "You need to get a more supportive sports bra before our next performance." Needless to say, she wasn't the nicest or most sensitive coach in the world.

Thus began my life-long quest for the perfect sports bra. My mom and I found one that worked quite well in terms of support, although it wasn't all that comfortable. And it was over twice the price of the one I had been wearing. But if it meant that my breasts wouldn't be the focus of the next dance team performance, (at least in my coach's mind) it was a necessity.

I learned that most sports bras came in small, medium, and large sizes, which roughly equated to 32A, 34B, and 36C. There was little thought given to women who didn't fit these sizes.

What I Want in a Sports Bra
The perfect sports bra, which does not seem to exist, meets all of the following criteria:

  1. No underwire
  2. Slim profile without bulk
  3. No chafing when used with Body Glide or 2Toms
  4. Comfortable and supportive
  5. Flattering
Bonus points if the bra is stylish, comes in a variety of colors, and looks good under a tank top. I have yet to find a sports bra that meets ALL of these criteria. My favorite sports bras come close, but nothing is truly ideal.

American vs. European Sports Bras
In the United States, it's difficult to find a D-cup sports bra that meets the first three criteria. Most all sports bras that support a larger breast are bulky, have underwires, and/or chafe. I tried on multiple Lululemon bras but didn't buy any of them. The ones that were designed for a D cup, like the "Speed Up" bra were too bulky. And the other ones were not supportive enough. Brooks and Under Armour both offer multiple options for D cup sizes, but I've found them to chafe, even with massive amounts of Body Glide. Most sports bras you find in the US are XS, S, M, L, XL which, as I said above, correlate roughly to 32A-38DD. It's like they assume that as your breasts get bigger, so does your width around, which we all know is not true.

When I first started running, I realized that I had to choose between a bulky underwire D-cup bra or cramming my breasts into an XS standard sports bra for compression. The underwire options were so uncomfortable that I typically opted for bras that were way too small for my breasts, but supported me nonetheless.

Berlei Sport Fit Crop Top (discontinued)
Then, in 2008, my sports bra world changed. I ran the London marathon which meant visiting the London Marathon Expo. In Europe, they treat sports bras the same way Americans treat shoes. They acknowledge that you need to be professionally fitted and they research and develop supportive technologies. The London expo had multiple booths solely dedicated to sports bras. There, I learned that my compression technique was really unhealthy for breast health. I also learned that you don't want to stop the bounce completely, you simply want to support it. Your breasts need to have enough room to move around freely, but the bra should incorporate features to support that movement.

I left the expo with three different sports bras-- all of which were above my budget, but something I never regretted for a minute. They were the Thuasne Force 3 (pictured above), the Shock Absorber B4490, and the ZSport. For the next 3 years I continued to buy those bras online until they were finally discontinued. Somewhere around 2014, I realized that those bras were breaking down and I needed new ones. At this point, I discovered two new favorites: The Berlei Sport Fit Crop Top and the Athleta Hulabraloo. Berlei is a European brand, and I was surprised that Athleta was able to design a bra that worked so well for me. Note: Athleta is great for D-cup swimwear, too!

D-Cup Sports Bra Reviews
This summer, I am once again on the quest for the perfect sports bra. Here are my reviews of the bras I have tried so far. Note: I have not received anything for free or for discount in exchange for these reviews. As I mentioned above, I am passionate about this topic so I am writing about it.

The Athleta Hulabraloo
Rating 9/10
It looks like this bra is being discontinued, but there are still a few left online. This bra tops my list as the best sports bra I have ever owned. I have 8 of them. It's not perfect, but pretty darn close. There's no underwire and no bulk. It's very lightly padded just for additional coverage, which I don't mind. This bra has never chafed me, even on 20-mile sweaty long runs. It's very comfortable and supportive and the racerback style makes it look good under tanks.

The only thing keeping this bra from earning a 10 out of 10 is that it's not totally flattering. It's not un-flattering, but I think because it's so low cut and then has some extra material on the bottom, it makes my breasts look lower on my body than I would like. The bra does not have adjustable straps. If it did, I think I could raise the boobs up a bit and get the look I wanted.  Here are some photos of the Hulabraloo in Action, size 32D:

The Anita Active Maximum Support Wire Free Sports Bra (model 5527)
Rating: 7/10
I like this bra quite a bit. It has no underwire, it's very supportive and comfortable, and it has an extremely slim profile with no padding. This bra also comes in multiple color options. However, it might not look great under a tank top because it's a classic bra style and not a racerback. The straps are adjustable which means I can make the breasts look higher on my torso. This bra keeps the breasts separate from one another, whereas many sports bras push them together. This is a good feature!

The bra does not chafe when used with 2Toms Sport Shield, but with Body Glide it does chafe. Anita bras can be bought online at They are fairly pricey (about $70 each) but HerRoom often has sales on particular colors. If the material were smoother, I would have given this bra 8/10, but it's a little coarse. It does not look like this bra is being discontinued any time soon, so get it while you can!

I also bought the Anita Active Air Control Sports bra (model 5533) This bra is very similar to the one above, only it has some light padding. I like both bras about the same. Once I have run in them more I might have a different opinion, but for now, I can't tell much of a difference in comfort, fit or style. Here is a photo of the Active Air Control Sports bra (size 32D), which retails for $74:

I also have the Active Air Control Sports bra model 5544, which is almost identical to the one above, but the band is wider and the cups are slightly more molded. I don't have a preference among any of these three Anita bras. I like how these sports bras come in multiple colors and support without underwire or a ton of bulk. I'm often jealous of the women who can wear the cute and colorful sports bras while the ones I like are typically limited to just a few plain colors. I highly recommend Anita, just watch out for the chafing and use 2Toms instead of Body Glide.

Nike Impact Strappy
Rating: 6/10
Even though this bra is sold in sizes XS-XL, it looked like it might work for me, given the adjustable straps and the coverage. My favorite thing about this bra is its looks. It has a slim profile with just a little bit of padding. It's stylish and the adjustable straps are great for getting just the right fit. This looks like a traditional sports bra with a strappy back, not some over-engineered device for a busty woman. And it comes in 5 different colors.

The reason I am only rating it a 6 out of 10 is that it's only somewhat comfortable. It's supportive, but just the way it sits makes me notice the bra while I run. Ideally, you wouldn't notice a sports bra was even there while running. It also chafed me a little bit even though I was using 2Toms. I would recommend this bra for shorter, non-sweaty runs. This bra retails for $55. I'm wearing a size Small:

Shock Absorber Ultimate Fly Sports Bra
Rating: 9/10
I'm no stranger to the Shock Absorber brand. It's a European brand that I discovered at the London Marathon expo. For years, I wore their B4490 model because it was supportive and fit really well. However, it was a chafing nightmare. I used to always run with a heart rate monitor, which stood between the bra and my skin, and that actually prevented the chafing. But without the heart rate monitor, the B4490 was a no-go. They also have an Ultimate Run Bra, but I tried that on at an expo once and didn't like the way it fit.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon the Ultimate Fly Sports Bra and decided to try it. I love it! It has a fun design with a bright back and a grey front. Some of the color can even be seen under the grey overlay in front. There's no padding and it has adjustable straps. It will look great under tank tops because of the thin straps and racerback style.

When I ran, I loved how light the bra felt. It was like I was running "free" without a huge device on me. The only thing stopping this bra from being the ideal 10/10 is the chafing. It did not chafe me on a 6-mile run with 2Toms Sports shield, but the material looks and feels like it would probably chafe with just Body Glide, or potentially on a longer run even with 2Toms. I'll need to try it on a longer run to confirm, and if it does chafe me with 2Toms, that would be a deal breaker. It's sleeker, more stylish and more flattering than the Athleta Hulabraloo, but if it ends up chafing me on long runs, that won't be good. Here's the 32D Ultimate Fly Sports Bra in action:

Under Armour Balance Eclipse High Bra
Rating: 5/10
I ordered this bra online and when it arrived, I was surprised at how bulky it was. It has molded cups which make the bra heavy with a lot of material. The material is smooth and the bra is supportive, however there was a little bit of chafing with Body Glide. I have not tried this bra with 2Toms yet. It's not uncomfortable, but it's also not comfortable. In the future, I will probably use it for easy runs only. The bra is available in cup sizes and has adjustable straps, so here is the 32D:

Here is a list of the bras that I tried on but did not purchase:

  • Zensah Gazelle Sports Bra: supposed to provide support for D cups via compression (which we know is not ideal). This bra didn't fit properly and my boobs were spilling out the sides.
  • Nike Alpha High Support Bra: This bra was very, very bulky. I ordered it online because it looked sleek but this was a huge contraption that I had no interest in running in.
  • Lululemon Speed Up Bra: This bra did not fit well at all; it was very awkward feeling.

In closing, if you wear a size 30D or 32D bra, I highly recommend the soon-to-be discontinued Athleta Hulabraloo, the Anita wireless bras, and the Shock Absorber Ultimate Fly Bra. In the meantime, I will continue to be on the quest for a bra that's as smooth and as non-chafing as my discontinued Berlei, as supportive as the Hulabraloo, in as many colors as the Anita bras, and as flattering and weightless as the Ultimate Fly Bra.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Leesburg 20K: The ups and the downs

This morning I ran the Leesburg 20K as a training run. I'm four weeks into my comeback after six weeks of being sidelined due to illness. Last weekend I ran 10.6 miles at a pace of 8:26, so I felt like I could definitely handle the 12.4-mile distance.

The plan was to run this race alongside my friend Allison. She wanted to run the first half (all uphill) at her goal marathon pace, and then speed up on the way back. It's nearly impossible to NOT speed up during the second half of this race unless you completely waste all your energy charging uphill. Her goal pace for the first half was between 8:15-8:30 which is well within my easy range. She wanted to practice setting the pace so the plan was to let her set the pace until the turnaround point at around mile 7 and then I would set the pace on the downhill.

I've only run this race once before, in 2008. (Yes, I have a blog post on that!) I ran a time of 1:44:26 at full effort, which was my PR, since it was actually the only 20K I have ever run. I was thinking it would be nice to beat that time and set a PR but that goal was secondary to sticking with the plan. This race also has a 5K, which I ran last last year.

Before the Race
Everything with my recovery had been going along really well until Thursday of this week. The combination of not sleeping well for several nights in a row, the heat/humidity, and my first speed work ended up setting me back a bit. I was able to hit my target pace during Thursday's workout (15 minutes at 7:07) but I felt like total crap for the rest of the day and into Friday. I ran extra easy on Friday and cut the run down from 60 minutes to 45. I took an unscheduled rest day on Saturday to be on the safe side. Thankfully, I was able to dig myself out of the hole by Saturday afternoon thanks to some solid sleep, hydration, and nutrition.

I woke up feeling like my normal healthy self so I decided I would do the race as planned. I figured I could always drop out if I started to feel bad mid-race. Greg was running it too, so we did our normal pre-race routine which included fueling with Generation UCAN.
Allison and me in matching shorts
(after the race)

We arrived at the race, retrieved our bibs, used the porta-potties, and then met up with Allison and some other friends. Allison and I had coordinated our outfits beforehand and wore matching yellow shorts. She is an ambassador for rabbit running gear, and has successfully roped me into enhancing my running wardrobe with more shorts and tanks than there are days in the week. Not to mention Greg, who was wearing a new rabbit tank and shorts. (Click on that link to get a 10% discount after you are done reading!)

It was about 68 degrees with 100% humidity and partly cloudy. Thankfully we didn't have to worry too much about the sun getting us with the majority of the course being shaded.

Miles 1-3
The race started and we got pulled out at a pace of around 7:30. I hadn't warmed up so this was a huge wakeup call to my legs. But it wasn't long before we got the pace under control and my legs thanked me.

This race is deceptively hilly. There are only a few noticeable hills but the entire course is run on steady inclines. The majority of the course is on the W&OD trail (a paved bike path), which is thankfully shaded but deceiving in its elevation profile. Thankfully, both Allison and I were prepared for this so we didn't freak out when the effort felt harder than it should for the paces we were running. Greg decided to stick with us initially so the three of us ran as a pack.

Mile 1: 8:27 (59 ft gain, 24 ft loss)
Mile 2: 8:24 (28 ft gain, 26 ft loss)
Mile 3: 8:36 (127 ft gain, 91 ft loss)

Elevation profile according to Garmin

Miles 4-6
Even though my easy pace is between 8:15-8:30, this is not my easy pace going uphill. Easy probably would have been more like 8:45 with my current fitness level. So the effort was more like "moderate" which I tolerated reasonably well. Had I been running this race on my own as a training run, I probably would have been more conservative up the hills, but Allison is really strong on hills so I kept up. Greg, on the other hand, decided to dial it back around mile 4 and told us he'd see us at the finish. This was a little bit of a relief for me because I knew if I wanted to dial it back, I would be able to run with Greg. But the plan was to stick with Allison and I was holding the pace well and didn't have any signs of fatigue.

Mile 4: 8:30 (192 ft gain, 105 ft loss)
Mile 5: 8:20 (94 ft gain, 24 ft loss)
Mile 6: 8:11 (138 ft gain, 148 ft loss)

Miles 7-9
We turned around on the trail shortly after we hit the 7-mile mark. This was an enormous mental relief. But it wasn't all downhill yet. There was still a sizable hill to tackle. Mile 7 provided some
downhill respite, which made mile 8 all the more punishing as we climbed back up.

As I said earlier, the race only has a few noticeable hills and this was one of them. To rub salt in the wound, this hill was not shaded and it was up a curve. At that point, I told Allison to run ahead and I might catch up with her on the downhill. I knew I needed to take it easy up that hill if I wanted to have any leg power to finish the race.

So now Allison was ahead of me and Greg behind me, and I was all alone to pace myself. On one hand, this meant less accountability, but on the other hand (the better hand) it meant less pressure to go fast in this race setting and potentially over-do it. The hill finally ended at mile 8.5 and I welcomed the rest of the downhill, shaded mile with open arms and was pleased to see my pace shoot down with no added effort.

Mile 7: 8:15 (37 ft. gain, 82 ft loss)
Mile 8: 8:21 (91 ft. gain, 30 ft loss)
Mile 9: 7:56 (124 ft. gain, 158 ft loss)

Miles 10-Finish
At this point, I was definitely ready for the race to be done. Even though I was running at a "moderate" effort, it was warm and a longer distance than I had run in three months. I gave myself permission to slow down and go easier, but I was in a groove that felt natural so I pressed on. Of course, my competitive mind was wondering what pace I needed to maintain to set a PR and beat my 1:44:26 from ten years ago. I didn't want to be foolish and relapse into illness just to set a PR in a race I wasn't even racing. But I also felt like it was attainable at my moderate effort.

Meanwhile, Allison was no longer in view. Initially, we were talking about speeding up to around 7:50 once the downhill part came. But she was obviously running much faster than that and I didn't attempt to reach her.

The last portion of the race was actually flat, which felt difficult after nearly four miles of downhill running. And the shade went away. But with less than a mile to go, I knew I could hang in there and continue at the same pace, even though it meant increasing effort.

I rallied and pushed myself up one final hill, confident that I would PR.

Mile 10: 7:50 (67 ft gain, 143 ft loss)
Mile 11: 7:51 (130 ft gain, 178 ft loss)
Mile 12: 7:49 (0 ft gain, 85 ft loss)
Last 0.5: 7:54 pace (18 ft gain, 12 ft loss)

After the race
I crossed the finish line in 1:42:42, which is a PR by nearly two minutes! The official pace was 8:16. Maybe this warrants PR cake, which I have not had since January.

I placed 43 out of 334 women
I placed 10 out of 61 in my age group (35-39)

I am happy with these results given all the time off and the effort level.  Immediately after crossing, someone approached me and told me that my book helped her qualify for Boston. I was more happy to hear that than I was to be finished with that race. I LOVE it when people tell me that my book has helped them. I would have liked to have had more of a conversation with her, but I was still recovering from that final uphill push and in need of water.

And then I saw Greg cross the finish line in 1:43:58. So he wasn't all that far behind. Allison, on the other hand, smoked it! She crushed her goal in 1:40:32, and that wasn't even all-out race effort for her.

It was an exciting finish line with so many of my friends finishing shortly before and after me. We spent some time chatting and exchanging race stories. The theme for me was "am I okay, given how crappy I felt on Thursday and Friday" and the answer was yes. I had some minor dizziness and a slight nauseous feeling, but those are normal for me when I run long in the heat.

I achieved all of my goals except for the goal of staying with Allison. And I'm happy to NOT have achieved that since it means that she exceeded what she thought she would do. I should also mention that exactly 4 weeks ago, I ran a 5K training run at a pace of 8:46. And now I can run 4 times that distance at a pace of 8:16 at the same effort level. Comebacks are awesome.

The morning went even better than I could have hoped. I feel great, I didn't over-do it, I got to run with Allison, I had fun, and I even PR'ed! This means that I can continue training (with some caution, of course) and pushing toward my fall race goals.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Comeback Continues

Today's post is brought to you by easy running! I'm at the point in my comeback where I'm itching for speed work and variety in my schedule but my coach is focused on building my mileage base back up before adding that stuff in. I agree that this is the best approach, and it's probably good that I
am craving speed and not getting burnt out (or sick again). Last week, my legs got tired on some of my runs but this week they felt much stronger. I actually had an easier time with the 90 minute long run yesterday than I did the first time I ran for 60 minutes. This is great progress!

Next week, my plan re-introduces speed work with some 30-second strides. I've been doing strides at the end of some of my runs, but only 4-6 of them for about 10-12 seconds each. Those have helped my legs "wake up" so they will be ready for fast running. The really hard workouts won't begin until September, which is great because running at max effort in the heat is what compromised my immune system. I realize it can still be warm in September but hopefully we get some relief.

Last week I ran 35.5 miles, and this week I ran 47.4 miles. That's a significant increase, but all of my runs this week have felt energized and strong. Thanks to my Boston training cycle, which wasn't that long ago, my body is used to daily running and high volume-- it's not like I am starting from scratch. Two years ago when I came down with a similar illness, I had to take 12 weeks off from running. This time, I was much smarter about not pushing it too soon, so I only had to take 6 weeks off. I'm optimistic that my fitness will come back quickly once I start training at full capacity.

Here is an overview of my running for the last month:

The runs prior to July 23rd included walk breaks, and if you're wondering, I generally define recovery as "slower than easy pace". That 5K training run I did on the 23rd basically told me I was out of the danger zone with the illness and I could begin to ramp up without fear of relapse.

That medium-long run from yesterday went really well. I started slowly (9:20 for the first mile) and eased my way into a rhythm. By the end of the run, I was at a sub-8:00 pace without even trying to be fast. Everything felt great and I had got into such a groove that the progression felt natural. I ended up running 10.6 miles (90 minutes) at a pace of 8:27. It was 73 degrees and very humid, which are challenging conditions for me so I was particularly pleased with how well my body handled it. My legs didn't tire either, which I think shows that the week day runs have helped build my endurance.

Next weekend I plan to run the Leesburg 20K as a training run with my friend Allison. Stay tuned for a post on that. My first "race effort" race will be a 5K on September 23rd, which I'm hoping isn't too warm. Now that I have identified running at max effort in the heat to be the culprit behind my immune system going crazy, I'm extra cautious about racing in the heat. My thinking is that the 5K will be a rust-buster to practice the mindset of competing/pushing to my limits and the Army Ten Miler two weeks later will be the target. My full schedule is posted here.

I'm more motivated than ever to get out there, follow my coach's plan and stay healthy. It won't be long before the fall racing season kicks off!

Week of August 6th